Fork-Tailed Devil; The P-38 Lightning

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Also new General Electric turbo-supercharger development would enhance the high altitude performance of their new design. Johnson admired the Spitfire wing design, but realized that if he used a similar design, the Model 22 would not possess adequate long-range capabilities. In fact, early Spitfires contained 85 gallons of internal fuel, whereas the P would eventually contain once in operational status. The new Model 22 would be a heavy aircraft, and its wing characteristics were not considered acceptable for a fighter.

The Lockheed design team felt that with the new engine development, turbo-superchargers, and their innovative design elements, it would indeed be an effective fighter. The design would also allow for a mm Madsen cannon and four. Kelly Johnson was able to back up their designs with calculations, which would allow for accurate predictions about the aircraft performance.

In June , Lockheed was awarded the contract for the building of 1 prototype. If tests proved promising, Lockheed was informed they could expect an order for fifty others. With the contract awarded to Lockheed, the design team then focused on creating the prototype. This was now designated as the XP by the military. The control surfaces were also metal coated.

Kelly Johnson also designed an intercooler, which would form part of the leading edge of the wing for aerodynamic and mechanical efficiency. After a couple of weeks performing the final preparations, the XP began initial testing. Ben Kelsey was ordered to monitor the design process, and when the prototype was ready, he would be behind the controls. Kelsey began the flight-testing by taxing the aircraft along the runway and was able to determine that the braking system was inadequate. His aircraft was unable to stop and scattered a construction crew working at the end of the runway.

Finally, the XP was ready to take flight for the first time. January 27, saw the XP ready for flight.

Kelsey steadily added power to the two Alison engines and lifted off the runway. Shortly after takeoff, the flaps began to shake and vibrate. Unknown to Kelsey, three out of the four aluminum support rods had failed, and allowed the flaps to run out of the stops. If all four support rods failed, the aircraft most likely would be unmanageable.

Kelsey throttled back and eased his way back towards the runway. He did not want to abandon the aircraft, which was a result of many months of hard work by Lockheed. Unable to use flaps for landing, he came is faster than normal landing speeds. He flared out between mph and was at 18 degrees. The XP actually was dragging its tail on the runway, causing sparks to fly. Kelsey was optimistic about the flight, and even excitedly proclaimed that the aircraft did not stall even at an extreme angle of attack.

This first flight of the P was marked with a large degree of excitement, even though it only lasted a short time. The engineers examined the aircraft, and it was determined that the problem was a result of inefficient flap seals and support rods. With those two problems addressed, and with enhanced brakes, the aircraft was ready for its second flight.

Kelsey once again took the aircraft up on February 5, A third flight of the XP revealed some longitudinal instability, which Kelly Johnson resolved by adding an extra seven feet of horizontal stabilizer outside of the fins on each side. Further testing revealed buffeting elevator problems. This was caused by the prop-wash from the inboard wing area. Switching engines resolved this problem, which created the counter-rotating engine characteristic of the P Three additional flights were conducted which brought the total testing time through February 10, to 4 hours and 49 minutes.

Since the first flight problems, no major problems were encountered throughout this short time of testing. It was time to move from March Field, and the military wanted to use this move to showcase their new aircraft to the public. A decision was made to use this move to perform a record breaking flight across the continent, thus breaking the existing speed record.

On February 11, , Lt. Kelsey lifted off from March Field and proceeded to fly to Amarillo, Texas. This three-hour flight was uneventful. Kelsey was benefiting from a tailwind and made his way across St. Louis and headed to Wright Field in Ohio. There he met with General Hap Arnold, and he gave Kelsey a final approval to continue the flight. Up to this point, the XP was performing flawless, and showed no evidence of any problems. However, this would soon change. The plan was for Kelsey to take off from March Field and proceed to Mitchel Field, his final destination.

Nobody at Mitchell Field was informed of any record-breaking flights, nor were they expecting a new prototype to make its way there. Kelsey also did not inform the Mitchell Field tower of his record, and did not ask for any time readings or insist on any priority. Instead, he was placed in a long landing pattern behind three much slower aircraft. Kelsey describes what happened then. Click on Picture to enlarge Crash of The XP "I did not give it a second thought when the tower instructed me to take a position behind the PB-2A because I had to get the plane slowed down for flap extension anyway.

I did not even think of icing because we had none of it before. When I added power, I was really surprised to see those damn engines just sit there and idle at around 1, rpm. If the engines just quit, I thought at the moment and have often thought, while I was going down…if they had just stopped all together, I would have kicked it off to the right and would have landed in an open field.

It would have been a reasonably good landing and we would have had minimal damage. It slashed through some trees, but a sand trap ended up doing the most damage. The aircraft was reasonably intact, but it was twisted, which prevented it from being repaired in any way. Spectators quickly approached the crash site and were surprised to see Kelsey unhurt. This crash also demonstrated the strength and durability of the airframe, would be a characteristic of the P throughout the entire war. Arguments have been made about the crash. Some people believed that the program was not set back too much because there was already many improvements planned for the next model, the YP Kelly Johnson put down some improvements he was working on in Report No.

He calculated a top speed of mph at critical altitude on brake hp per engine. All he needed to meet for the original specifications was mph. He argued that the crash did indeed cause a significant delay in the development of the P program. Instead of waiting a few weeks until we knew more about the airplane, they took it when it had hardly been tested. It set the P back about two years because we had to start from scratch and build another prototype airplane and run a whole new test program, and it was the best fighter plane we had at that time.

That incident may very well have lengthened the war. An investigation was immediately launched to probe the cause for the crash. The XP crash was attributed to either vapor lock or possibly icing of the engines. General Arnold and Lt. Kelsey were summoned to Washington to discuss the circumstances of the crash and the possible future of the P developmental program. Satisfied with the state of the P program, the military decided to order thirteen additional YPs from Lockheed. The order for additional P prototypes allowed Johnson to able to incorporate many improvements into the next design.

The first YP was rolled out nineteen months later. Click on Picture to enlarge The XP Lockheed was struggling to fill many types of orders and was rapidly growing. The main focus was to produce the Hudson. There were not many available engineers and designers to work on the fledging P project. Lockheed looked to the contract with Curtis to produce the P as an example. In , there were not many orders for the P, and it was basically a break-even proposition for Curtis. Lockheed was informed not to expect many orders for the P Lockheed also had put up most of the money for the first prototype, and the proposition for profit was limited.

So as any company would do, they focused on making money. The country was not at war, so there was no immediate need to produce something that would at best break even. In June , Lockheed took over a local distillery building and began to use it for YP production. Lockheed engineers were following Allison improvements in their V engine and planned to incorporate the new VF engine in the YP models.

Lockheed started production for the thirteen YPs soon after taking over the distillery building. During this time, Bob Gross thought that no more than sixty models would ever be produced. He based his belief on the overwhelming favoritism being placed on bombers than fighters in the military.

The military believed a bomber with massive armor and machine guns would not encounter problems with enemy fighters.

Two WWII P-38 Pilots to Speak at Planes of Fame Air Musuem

The XP was not designed with this mindset, and would be extremely hard to produce in any significant numbers. The new Alison engine was rated at hp at 20, ft. The YP had a designed empty weight of 11, lbs. This rose to 14, when additional space was allotted for fuel tanks. Lockheed engineers guaranteed a high speed on mph at 20, ft. The YP models began trickling out of the factory and immediate testing was conducted.

Headle and Burcham teamed up with Dr. Poole in an attempt to anticipate the many "unknowns" that would be encountered. Working with the Mayo Clinic, procedures were developed to hopefully prevent any problems due to excessive altitudes. Lockheed constructed a special altitude chamber to test new equipment. During this time period, many of the standard pilot equipment were very primitive. Oxygen systems were unreliable, there were no ejection seats, and data recording was only beginning to move from the "knee pad" methods were only a few of the developing techniques.

Battle Stations: P38 Lockheed Lightning (War History Documentary)

Soon after testing began, Marshall Headle was seriously injured in an altitude chamber accident, which permanently ended his flying career, and led to a premature death. The last YP trickled out of the factory in May By this point of production, Lockheed released some of the YPs over to the military for additional testing.

These pilots would form the initial cadre of P pilots during the war. Major Signa Gilkey was one of these pilots who flew the YP During one flight, he decided to perform a limited test dive. Gilkey underestimated the potential speed buildup of the aircraft, and soon built up excessive speeds. He was one of the first military pilots to experience firsthand the problems of compressibility. He was able to recover the aircraft and land safely. By September , the YPs were in a committed program to test compressibility. Test engineers wanted the test pilots to go past mph starting above 30, ft.

This was not normally done, and many of the test pilots thought the test dives were too ambitious at this early stage. Ralph Virden was committed to fly the tests and took off on November 4, for a series of test dives. Partially through the testing, an object broke off from the aircraft. The aircraft entered an inverted spin and crashed. Virden was killed. Kelly Johnson would later say, "I was back in my office when I heard Virden's plane screaming towards the plant. That most unusual sound probably resulted from the propellers striking the air at an angle abnormal to the line of flight.

At a speed of mph at 3, ft. Designers were pushing the limits of aerodynamic knowledge and material strength in the quest for maximum performance. Often these limits were exceeded leading to unexpected or tragic events. The YP was destined to spend the rest of its operational life with dive testing. If the problems with compressibility were not figured out, much of the aircraft potential as a fighter would be removed.

The YP proved to be a great step towards operational Ps during the war. Without the hard work and sacrifice of the Lockheed engineers and test pilots, the P may have never developed into the aircraft it was. It opened the door for many other aircraft which experienced compressibility and other related phenomena, and allowed the engineers and designers to immediately know what exactly was happening and were able to overcome these obstacles much easier.

More on The YP France and Britain would soon be engaging the German army and Luftwaffe on a growing scale. Both countries expressed an interest in the Lockheed P design. Both countries felt it could possibly contribute to their own defense against the German onslaught. The British placed an order in March , with the expectations that the first deliveries would start in December II would eventually be the P G model. The French interest did not last long because they quickly surrendered to the Germans.

Click on Picture to enlarge P G In an attempt to deal with the problems in Europe, the British wanted to add to its air force. They tried to design a twin-engine fighter, but their design was dead in the water, and was abandoned. They expressed interest in the Model fighter. They originally ordered of the "Lightning I", but after the Battle of Britain, they reduced that number to After a British test pilot gave bad reports after flying the aircraft, the British would only accept 3 total aircraft.

At the same time, the Unites States Army did not want to use their limited quantity of turbochargers for export. Basically, the British would be receiving "castrated" Ps. This would cause the aircraft to lose too much performance at high altitudes. Robert Gross consulted with many legal executives, and recommended that Lockheed proceed with the production of the aircraft based on the original plan. This resulted in a standoff between Lockheed and the British Air Ministry. The models in production were eventually converted to Air Corps specifications.

Because these Ps did not contain superchargers, many would be used at twin engine trainers. The British refusal of this aircraft was attributed to three main reasons.

The P "The Fork-Tailed Devil"

First of all the Battle of Britain was over and the immediate threat was substantially reduced. Secondly, the British treasury was in shambles and could not afford to obtain everything it needed. Lastly, they were concerned with the tail flutter problems, even though it had been researched and corrected. The British lost tremendous amounts of money on their twin-engine Westland Whirland design, but they were afraid of another problem-plagued aircraft. In fact British test pilots who flew the Model felt it was a good plane to fly, but would not be able to deliver the performance needed at high altitudes against the Luftwaffe.

The British were in no position to use valuable personnel and resources to experiment with different setups on the Model Many people have speculated what would have happened if they adapted a Merlin engine the ones used on the P in the Model Unfortunately this will never be known. What is known is that only 3 of these aircraft were ever delivered to the British, and the remaining undelivered aircraft served valuable training and experimentation roles. This model was outfitted with new self-sealing fuel tanks, and new low-pressure oxygen systems. Additional armor plating and glass was installed in the cockpit to better protect the pilot.

Other enhancements in this model were the use of new propellers, retractable landing lights, new elevator mass balances, and some tail redesigns. Lockheed spent a lot of time designing the P production much easier. This was a twin-engine aircraft, so there were numerous duplicate parts that needed to be installed on each aircraft. One aircraft was experimented on with the use of a pressurized cockpit. This would enable the pilot to be more comfortable. However, a common belief that it would not be much of an improvement to justify incorporating it into the design caused this idea to be scrapped.

All future P pilots would suffer these effects because flying at high altitudes make the cockpit extremely cold and uncomfortable. There were over 2, individual changes made for the new model design. Perhaps the most significant change was the reversion back to a smaller cannon. The 37mm cannon was rather ambitious, and the engineers realized that by using a smaller 20mm cannon, there would be more space for ammunition and a faster rate of fire and would be more effective overall.

The Hamilton Standard propellers were replaced with Curtis Electric dual solid blades. Hydraulic and electrical systems were changed to allow easier production. The 'E' was the first model to be produced on a planned and effective production line. Previously, aircraft were finished on assembly lines and moved to other facilities to make any changes. Now, the entire aircraft would be completed in the same location. Perhaps the most significant fact about the 'E' models was that large amounts were converted to reconnaissance aircraft. These would be the first in a very distinguished line of reconnaissance aircraft used by the Allies.

The PF With the introduction of the 'F' model, the P was now considered a combat worthy aircraft. This model began production in early , and was the principal aircraft for Operation Torch, the Invasion of North Africa. In the hands of a good pilot, the P F was a very capable aircraft. The P F differed from the P E in two main areas.

First of all, the weight of the aircraft was now at 19, lbs. The new Allison VF-5 engines were installed and produced 1, hp apiece. These engines consumed more fuel than the older ones, so Lockheed developed an under-wing pylon capable of carrying extra ordnance or external fuel tanks. The wing was capable of carrying two pylons, either two gallon drop tanks or two 1, lb. One P F was actually tested for carrying two 1, lb. The increased performance, and newly increased range at 1, miles, made this a deadly machine.

Another change that was. Earlier models had a side opening design, whereas the P F used a rear hinged, upward opening canopy. Also, a newly designed "combat flap" enabled the aircraft to deploy the flaps at 8 degrees, which increased lift and made the aircraft more maneuverable. Special P F's were made into "piggy-back" models. These designs contained a bubble canopy located directly behind the main canopy, which enabled a passenger to ride along in place of the radio gear.

This was very useful for training purposes. New air cleaners were installed to meet with tropical and desert operating conditions. General Spaatz summed up the P F by stating, "I'd rather have an airplane that goes like hell and has a few things wrong with it, than one that won't go like hell and has a few things wrong with it. This new engine produced the same power as the F-5, but it was more effective at high altitudes. At 24, ft. It also incorporated the newly designed B superchargers.

The 'G' models had the capability of carrying 3, lbs or bombs, and were capable of carrying gallon drop tanks. This increased the operating range to 2, miles, or an endurance of ten hours. Late 'G' production models were capable of carrying two 2, lb.

P-38 Genesis

As a comparison, the B carried 4, lbs. The 'G' was listed at 12, lbs. It weighed in at 15, when combat ready, and had a maximum of 19, lbs. Maximum speed at 25, ft. A total of 1, were produced, and of those were converted to FA, and were converted to FB models. The P H reached operational status in May The 'H' contained a new VF engine, which could produce 1, hp. New automatic oil radiator flaps were introduced. These flaps addressed cooling problems at high power outputs, and compensated for inadequate intercoolers in the leading edge of the wing. Early 'H' models produced 1, hp at takeoff, and 1, hp at 25, ft.

Once the oil radiator flaps were introduced in later 'H' models, they could produce 1, hp at 25, ft. A new AN-M2C 20 mm canon was also introduced in this design. It was capable of carrying gallons of fuel this includes external capacity , which allowed a 2, mile range. The new engines were slightly less effective in fuel consumption.

The bomb-load capacity was listed at 3, lbs. Ninety of these models were converted to FBs. With the introduction of the P J, Lockheed felt it had finally produced the version originally envisioned by Kelly Johnson. Many improvements were made and some obstacles were overcome. Earlier Ps had inadequate cooling and used complex paths for air to travel in the leading wing intercoolers. This process of cooling was characterized by the superchargers passing compressed air from the turbos, through the leading edge and directed it back into the carburetor.

Explosive backfires of the engines were known to occur with this cooling process technique. The P J used a new core radiator beneath the engine. Air could now flow directly into the central duct behind the propeller, and was eliminated through an exit flap. The Pilot could control the entire cooling process from the cockpit during flight. This allowed for more efficient cooling and resulted in better engine performance.

The same 'H' model engines were used, but were more efficient due to the better cooling design. They could produce 1, hp. The top speed was mph at 30, ft. The leading edge intercoolers were removed, and extra fuel tanks gallons were installed. This brought the fuel capacity to 6, lbs of fuel. The wings needed to be strengthened to prevent any deformation due to the extra weight. New heating systems were installed in the cockpit. This included foot warmer and a hot air defroster, which maintained good visibility at high altitudes. The pilot also did not have to operate a manual gun charger-selector.

They were charged while on the ground, and eliminated many potential electrical problems. It also had electrical operated dive brakes, and an aileron boot system.


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Several instances were recorded where the P J carried loads of 5, lbs. Fully fueled, the 'J' carried 1, gallons, and had a maximum range of 2, miles 12 hours. In the Pacific Theater of Operations, more efficient power settings were devised, and the range was extended to 2, miles this included takeoff, formation, climb-out, cruise to target, combat maneuvers, and landing. The service ceiling was 43, ft. Lockheed did all the testing in the United States, and were never tested in conditions similar to those in Britain.

Once the P J arrived in Britain, problems were encountered immediately. In addition to the new problems, many new, inexperienced pilots were beginning to fly. The problems would take time to work out, but the 8th Air Force was not able or willing to wait. At this time, P D Mustangs and new versions of the P Thunderbolt were available to perform long-range escort and strike missions.

This was the beginning of the end of the P in the ETO. Morale was on the decline due to the long missions and many cases of engine failure. Al Bodie felt the problem was with the Champion spark plugs. Though that may have been a problem, most likely the engine problems were a result of the lower grade of fuel used in Britain. Experiments showed that the tetraethyl lead compound was separating out the gasoline in the manifold. Nobody considered this a problem in , and they were also unprepared when the problems were encountered.

The constant soaking of the engines in the cold British rain also contributed to the engine failure problems. One was converted into the "Droop Snoot" variation. This aircraft had a hallowed out gun compartment, and was fitted with a window similar to that on the front nose of the B This allowed a bombardier to use a Norton bombsite and use the P to lead a larger formation of Ps in a level-bombing raid. Another variation was the "Pathfinder". This was very similar to the "Droop Snoot", but it contained radar instead of an optical bombsite.

P-38 Operational Use

In spite of the problems encountered in the ETO with the P J, it was still a fine combat aircraft. This was the first fully capable combat P produced. A good pilot in the P J was able to hold his own with any other enemy aircraft. More On The P J. Lockheed did some testing for a new Allison engine, the V F This new engine was designed for improved performance at high altitudes.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

For the test, a P E was modified for these new engines and was fitted with large 12' 6" , thick paddle-blade propellers. It was 14 mph faster at 29, ft. Propeller spinners were changed to accommodate new propellers and the interface at the oil cooler inlet. It was superior in high speed and climbing performance to all other fighters. However, due a lack of secondary production facilities, and lingering doubts as to whether Allison would be able to deliver the new engines in abundance, the 'K' model was never produced.

Lockheed decided to focus on the 'L' production instead. It produced 1, hp at maximum power, and produced a normal rating of 1, at 30, ft.

The Ultimate Weapon

The pilot also had more selections for power settings inside the cockpit, and these settings could also be set on automatic. A new flush landing light was inserted in the leading edge of the wing, and replaced a retractable one in previous models. Enhanced external fuel tank system was also used, and consisted of new fuel booster pumps. External fuel capacity was increased to allow two gallon tanks to be used. This increased the total fuel capacity to 1, gallons.

1) The P-38 was the first fighter to fly faster than 400 mph.

One interesting improvement was the installation of a new tail-warning radar system. It would signal the pilot through flashing lights and bell sounds when an aircraft was in close proximity behind the aircraft. The normal combat weight was between 17, lbs. With a maximum load, the total weight was 22, lbs.

The service ceiling was 44, ft. A total of 3, were produced before the war ended. The PM. To meet the Army's need for a night interceptor aircraft, several types such as the British Bristol Beaufighter and the deHaviland Mosquito both were acquired through the "reverse Lend Lease" program , and the Douglas P variation from the A Havoc light bomber were tried. In the Pacific some Ps were converted into night fighter roles. These aircraft were also able to carry a passenger located directly behind the pilot under a small bubble canopy. There were other field converted Ps but none were produced with the night fighter role in mind.

In October , Lockheed began production of the P M with all the modifications mentioned previously and it made its maiden flight on January 5, The P M crews trained at Hammer Field, California early in , but did not finish training until early in the summer of. A few were rushed into the Pacific in the closing months of the war, but were never really used in night combat roles. By March , the P M was phased out of the service.

Aerial reconnaissance has been around since the American Civil War, when balloons were inflated and some daring individual would look at the enemy activities and formations. World War I saw the use of balloons, but the invention of airplanes added an entirely new dimension.

By the start of World War II, Allied forces wanted to develop an aircraft that would be able to successfully penetrate deep behind enemy lines and obtain valuable information. The commanders had to know what the other side was doing because in World War II, the face of battle was changing, and every advantage was needed.

At first, the B and B was considered to fill this role, but they were very big, too slow, and were easy prey when alone. Kelly Johnson, who would later master the art of reconnaissance aircraft with the U-2 and SR, thought the P E could be easily modified by replacing the machine guns in the nose with cameras. These variations would become the aircraft of choice for reconnaissance for the Allied forces. Overall, Lockheed built over 1, reconnaissance aircraft from many production model Ps. Gun ports were capped with sheet metal patches, but some of these aircraft kept two.

The 8th Photo Recon Squadron flew the first recon missions in April In fact, Lt. This aircraft contained a different camera configuration. Two small windows on each side of the nose were installed in order to accommodate a K trigetrogen oblique camera. Overall, twenty of these aircraft were used.

Based on the P G frame, and had more horsepower, and contained better cameras and camera mounts than the F-4 A. These were delivered in August The PJ intakes under the engines were enlarged to house core-type intercoolers. The curved windscreen was replaced by a flat panel, and the boom mounted radiators were enlarged. Some were fitted with bombardier type noses, and were used to lead formations of bomb-laden Ps to their targets. The PM was a two-seat radar-equipped Night Fighter, a few of which had become operational before the war ended.

By the end of production in , 9, Ps had been built. Only 27 of the aircraft exist today. The P Lightnings were used to great success in the European and Pacific Theaters of War, and were gradually resolved to the role of close support bomber craft and nightfighters upon the introduction of sleeker and faster aircraft such as the P Mustangs. Did the Germans ever call it that? Jank Senior Airman. Jul 24, Jank said:. Aggie08 Staff Sergeant Jul 24, I've read that in the Time-Life WW2 books. Sounds pretty darned cool if you ask me.

Soundbreaker Welch? Tech Sergeant. Nice photo of the invasion marked P flying over sand. P38 Pilot said:. Yes, but originally Rommel's troops gave it the nickname when Ps targeted convoys and wreaked havoc of fuel depots and artillery postions. This is a fact, its just an old myth that some PR guys decided to put into play I pretty sure the Luftwaffe didnt call it that, but what about the ground pounders?

Probably the Forked-Tailed Devil. And who's Martin Cadin? Hunter Tech Sergeant. Here is what I know about the German fliers and P While I have read first hand accounts from German pilots meeting P's they never called it a "Fork tailed Devil". Most German pilots thought at most that the P was a average plane at best. Most accounts that I have seen is that they thought it was unfit for flying in Europe. I have never seen any German pilot speak about the P with fear, like the name "Fork Tailed Devil" sort of implies. I like all of them including the P for different reasons and different roles.

Luftwaffe did not call the P a fork-tailed devil. They called it a preferred target, thanks to it's size and lack of maneuverability. P was a much feared ground attack plane, and it's possible German ground forces called it that, but not Luftwaffe. The term first appears in a Stars And Stripes article about PGs in North Africa, so it's possible the term has been coined for propaganda purposes by a journalist working for the magazine, or it has been heard from a German POW. Talk Lightning - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Gnomey Globetrotting Surgeon General Staff member.

I always thought it was a myth penned later as both Adler and FBJ have pointed out.



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